Anti-protest laws struck down by court

What are NSW's anti-protest laws? The state's Supreme Court struck down part of the laws, finding it was unconstitutional.
What are NSW's anti-protest laws?

The NSW Supreme Court has ruled parts of NSW’s anti-protest laws are unconstitutional.

The anti-protest laws came into effect in April 2022, following a string of protests that caused major disruptions across Sydney.

The court has since determined part of the legislation is in breach of the Constitution because it goes against the implied freedom of political communication.

What are NSW’s anti-protest laws?

Under laws that were fast-tracked through Parliament, protesters in NSW who block off, damage, or disrupt major roads or infrastructure, such as train stations or ports, could receive a two-year jail sentence, fines up to $22,000, or both.

The laws were passed by the former Coalition Government under Premier Dominic Perrottet, and supported by the then Labor Opposition.

Anti-protest court challenge

A legal challenge was brought in the Supreme Court in October 2022. It was launched by two women from Knitting Nannas — an environmental advocacy group that conducts peaceful protests, or ‘knit-ins’ around the country.

The women said new laws had stopped them from attending regular protests because they feared being arrested or jailed. They argued the laws infringed on the implied protection of freedom of speech in the Constitution.

The judgment

The Supreme Court found the laws imposed an “unjustified burden” on the freedom of political communication.

The Court ruled the implied purpose of the laws – to disincentivise disruptive or damaging protests – was fair. However, it said the laws were not “reasonably appropriate and adapted to advance the legitimate object”.

There was concern that protesters causing minimal disruption at a major facility could face disproportionately harsh penalties.

Protester’s response

Helen Kvelde, one of the two plaintiffs, was “happy” with the judgment.

She said the laws could “affect anyone”, including people a government simply “does not like”.

She hoped the decision would bring further attention to the importance of peaceful protests.

NSW Government response

The NSW Government said it is “carefully considering the judgment”.

It has sought advice about the possibility of a legal appeal, or introducing new laws to reflect the court’s judgment.

The Government says it’s committed to ensuring “protest activity is appropriately regulated and balances the rights and freedoms of the people of NSW”.

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